says that all the frontiers of the world have been explored?
The following is an exploration into the wilds of felt boot
making. Come join me and my faithful student on this textile
safari as we tame the wild textiles, capture the formidable
felt process, stare death in the face as we full the felt,
and finally emerge victorious with an actual felt boot...
oh, come on, intrepid costumer! You've read this far...
will need a stove or access to one, a couple of deep pans
for the felting solution, Ivory liquid soap (or melted Ivory
bar soap), water, a ladle, and a shaker (for pouring the felting
solution onto the felt), a reed mat, and lots of towels.
The felting solution is one of those tricky things. One word
of caution: the soap MUST be Ivory (either liquid or melted
bar - 99.99% pure). Nothing else will do. Why soap? The
pH of the wool must be changed in order for it to felt quickly.
You can felt with just plain water but it takes considerably
longer. Making the water acidic will also accomplish the same
thing but soap is easier on the hands.
Generally, you don't want too much soap in your water but
the wool dictates how much soap you will need and here's more
trickiness; you won't know until you start to work with the
felt. I started with about one third cup of my soap mix (about
four bars of Ivory melted into a half gallon of water). After
pouring it onto the wool and working with
it, it should work smoothly and have some lather. If the wool
wants to stick to your hands and is not working smoothly,
add a bit more soap to your water and wet the felt again with
that mixture. DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH. Change the pH too much
and the wool will not felt at all or be very sluggish.
Start the process by putting your pans of water on the stove
and heating the water until you can barely stand to put your
finger in it. Ladle in your soap mix and let simmer while
you construct the felt pile.
your pattern by getting some heavy paper and drawing around
your foot. Depending on the wool and how much it shrinks,
you will add anywhere from an inch to two inches around the
diagram of your foot. Add to that a section for your ankle.
Once finished, your pattern will look like the picture to
sure to create two patterns because you will be using the
first pattern as a template during the felting process and
it will probably not survive. Once you find a pattern that
works well for you, make it out of plastic or commercial felt
so that you can use it repeatedly (you can never have too
many felt boots, right?).
The Wild Felt Poodle Pile:
wool that felts best is undyed roving that has been cleaned
and carded. When you buy your wool, either from a store or
off the Internet, get at least 9 oz. per boot. It comes in
long, continuous fluffy strands. Grasp the fluff strand about
three to five inches from the end with one hand. With the
other hand, pull a tuft away from the strand. This will give
you a tuft with all the fibers running the same direction.Follow
the placement illustrations shown below.
Lay bats down first going one direction and allowing for both
sides of the boot as well as seam allowances.
It is VERY important that the tufts overlap one another at
least an inch or so. On your reed mat, lay down your first
layer in one direction and then proceed to lay down a second
layer in the opposite direction. Follow your pattern and allow
about an inch or two overlap for seams as you lay down the
wool. For a good, sturdy boot, it takes about four to six
illustration shows the beginning of the second layer of tufts
or "bats" layed over the first. Lay down the third
layer following the direction of the first layer, the fourth
layer following the second, and so on.
Darn Hot and We Like It That Way:
the poodle pile has been laid, get out your shaker and ladle
some of the hot felting solution into it. It is better to
shake the water onto the felt rather than pouring it so that
it all gets wet evenly. Initially, wet the wool until it mats
down a bit. Work it with your fingers to test if there is
enough soap in the solution. Use the palms of your hands for
this part and be careful not to create any holes.
Felting Happens, Whether You Want It to or Not:
by pouring hot water onto wool, you will have already mostly
felted the wool. However, in order to felt the entire section,
you must make sure that the whole area is wet and encouraged
to felt. The solution must be hot enough that it is uncomfortable
to the touch. Rubber gloves are a good thing at this point.
Massage the wool with your fingers and palms but, again, be
careful not to create holes. Make sure that the whole area
is wet and starting to felt.
Only wet and felt one half of your poodle pile, making sure
that you DO NOT felt the seam allowances. Remember that we
want these to felt to the other side of the pile. Check the
felted section to your pattern.
Once you have on side wetted and felted, place the pattern
down on it and do the same thing with the other side, leaving
your seam allowances unfelted. At this point, return to the
first side, and wet the top of the pattern just enough to
hold the seam allowances as you fold them over. Once the seam
allowances are folded over the pattern, pick up that side
and fold it onto the other side. Wet the top and fold the
other side's seam allowances onto the top of the first side.
Add more hot solution and work the seam allowances to make
sure that they felt to one another correctly. This step is
tricky and this is where any holes will appear if you're not
careful. More about taking care of holes at the end of this
Fulling Happens, With a Little Help:
Once the boot and seams have been felted, the hard part
the fulling process by rolling the boot up in the mat and
rolling it back and forth under pressure. Open it up, pick
up the boot and turn it 90 degrees, roll it back up and repeat
the process. Do this for a while until the boot has noticeably
shrunk. This is where the towels come in handy because you'll
be squeezing the water out. Add more hot solution as the boot
starts to dry out a bit. Fulling requires heat and water.
If this boot is for you, put on a pair of shorts, sit yourself
down in front of the tv with a full bottle of hot felting
solution and put the felt boot on your foot. It will still
be huge at this point but once you begin to full it, it will
shrink to fit. Rub the boot with your hands, arms and knuckles
against your leg, being sure to rub all over the boot. Rather
magically, the boot will begin to conform to your foot. This
part takes quite a while and can be sped up by popping the
boot in the drier for a few minutes, taking it back out and
wetting it down, rubbing it against the foot, and repeating
that process a few times.
Viola! A Boot!:
takes about four hours to make a boot, start to finish. To
make a pair of boots is easily an eight hour, one day project
but the results are worth it. After the boots dry, which takes
over night, you are ready to embellish, appliqué and
finish them according to whatever direction you want to go.
Felt boots have been found as early as the Scythian period
and as late as modern times. The process has not changed much
and does not vary much from culture to culture, time period
to time period. References to felt boots are found from the
Scandinavian countries all the way through Asia.
these boots are very sturdy, very comfortable and great for
walking around in Summer or Winter. If you live in a wet climate,
add a leather sole to the bottom or wrap a leather bootie
around the foot part of the boot to protect your foot.
For more information on how this process works, I recommend
the following text: Felt:
New Directions for an Ancient Craft, by Gunilla Paetau
Sjoberg. This book takes you through the above process and
talks about making hats and clothing items as well.
Happy boot making!